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JUSTICE FOR SALE
For the first time in history that goes back to the 14th century barristers and solicitors across England and Wales last week staged a mass walkout protesting against the government plans to cut legal aid fees by 30% and the reduction in representation available to defendants. This is the second walkout in two months and it was organised by Criminal Bar Association (CBA) over the cuts. The Justice Ministry intends to cut annual criminal legal aid from £2.1 billion to 200 million. Barristers are arguing that the will lose their independence in defending clients due to costs and the legal aid cuts will create dominating firms in the industry where young and inexperienced barristers will have their loyalties tried between representing their clients and gaining profit for the corporation shareholders. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has justified the cuts by depending on public misconceptions about criminal barristers high earning. The shakeup of the legal system is seen by barristers as a way of outsourcing of criminal defence to firms run by large companies.
Those who stand to lose in this “justice sale” are charity organisations that work for the well-being of prisoners’ family, offer advisory service and reducing negatives impacts of imprisonment. The Howard League of Panel and Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAC) both national charities that campaigns on issues of short term prison sentences, real work in prison, children in prison and community sentences. These charity organisations are totally independent of the government and are funded by membership subscription and donations. These charities argue that societies cannot be inclusive without equal access to justice and it may also undercut any attempts these charities have in rehabilitating inmates. Other losers in these cuts are vulnerable groups and those with mental health issues and the youth justice system that allows young offenders to make fresh start. Their argument is that the legal aid cuts are further isolating an already marginalised sector of our society. And another worry in this “legal aid sale” is that we the society stand to be losers in these cut, the thought of having an inexperienced barrister representing a rapist, child molester or terrorist is most chilling. The most vital loss is to the criminal justice system where experienced and skilled lawyers will be driven away from legal aid funded criminal work. The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) and London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association (LCCSA) say that the cuts need to be addressed or law firms will end up replacing their experience solicitors with “unqualified cheap ones” delivering third rate advice (www.bbc.co.uk).